Hello, hello! Happy Friday to you all! Today I’m coming at you with the second to last recap of our European vacation. I can’t believe there’s just one more recap to post next week! In case you missed the first few posts, you can catch up on those here:
- Part 1: Amsterdam, Volendam, and Monnickendam (Netherlands)
- Part 2: Ghent (Belgium)
- Part 3: Brugge & Brussels (Belgium)
Let’s jump right in! Warning: it’s another long one!
After a fun day in Brussels, Fabio and I hopped on an early morning train to Reims, one of the major cities in the Champagne region in France. When Fabio and I were first planning our trip we knew we wanted to see another French city other than Paris, and since Reims is in the north (i.e., close to Belgium) and is known for its plethora of champagne houses, we were sold. The train ride didn’t take long at all, and before we knew it we had arrived in our first French city of the trip!
Our Air BnB was a quick 10 minute walk from the train station, and after dropping off our bags we headed out for lunch. Our Air BnB host recommended an adorable lunch spot called Central Park Cafe, which was basically a bunch of tables and chairs set up in a small park with a fountain. What a beautiful location!
When our waiter came to the table it became clear that we were not in Belgium anymore – this guy knew zero English and the whole menu was in French. Luckily I took some French in college so I could at least string a few words together, but it was very different from the Belgium atmosphere where everyone spoke English.
Fabio and I both decided to order steak et frites – steak and fries – mostly because someone seated at a table nearby got it and it looked delicious, plus it was something we could pronounce and recognize.
Luckily we were NOT disappointed! This meal was absolutely delicious and I think it was our first realization that the food in France was going to be so much better than anything we had eaten so far on the trip. It was so simple and tasty!
After lunch it was time for our first champagne tour of the day: the Veuve Clicquot house!
Fabio and I are big fans of Veuve Clicquot champagne so we were really excited for the tour. Upon arriving we met with our guide and learned a bit about the history of the brand.
Apparently it was founded by Mr. and Mrs. Clicquot in 1772, and when Mr. Clicquot passed away in 1805, everyone assumed the champagne brand would die out too. Luckily for us, Mrs. Clicquot decided to keep things going, which was very rare for that time period. Mrs. Clicquot actually did a great job of getting the champagne into the hands of buyers, and soon this female entrepreneur had a booming business on her hands! I love this story of girl power back in the day. 🙂 By the way, Veuve means “widow” in French, hence the name Veuve Clicquot.
After hearing about the history of Madame Clicquot, as she was known, we headed down into the cellars! Our guide warned us that the cellars are seriously huge, and we shouldn’t wander too far from her or we might not be able to find our way out. It’s like a gigantic maze down there!
While we were underground, our guide explained how champagne is made. I actually think is a pretty cool process!
To be considered champagne, the grapes have to be hand-picked from the champagne region in France. There are three different kinds of grapes that are picked, and the grape juice is stored in separate containers based on what type of grape it is and which village in the region it came from. They used to store the grapes in big wooden barrels, but now they use stainless steel.
Once the grape juice is fermented and becomes still wine, professional tasters come in to select the right blend of grapes. Depending on the harvest from that year, sometimes they use all three types of grapes and sometimes they use just one. The tasters have a really sensitive pallet and are good at figuring out how to blend the grapes create the same taste year after year. I wouldn’t mind that job!
Once the mixture is just right, they bottle up the champagne and then add yeast and sugar to it to create the bubbles. Fun fact: when champagne was first created, it used to be super sweet, almost like a soda! Gross.
Once the yeast and sugar are added to the bottle, they leave the champagne in the cellars for about three years to let it age.
Then when the yeast is dead, they have to extract it from the bottle so you get a nice, clean (not-gritty) taste. Apparently this involves storing the bottles upside down so the yeast falls to the neck of the bottle, and then – get this – they put the neck of the bottle in a freezing liquid so the champagne with the yeast turns into an ice cube. Then they open the bottle and remove the yeasty ice cube. Weird right? Who knew so much work goes into a bottle of champagne.
After the cellar tour was complete, it was time for the tasting!
Ah, this was definitely the best part of the tour. 😉
Fabio and I each enjoyed a tasty glass of bubbly and then bought a bottle to take with us to Paris. So delicious!
After the tour, Fabio and I had some time to kill so we sat in the sunshine at some cute tables outside of the Clicquot house.
Up next we headed over to G.H. Mumm for our next tour! We heard a lot of similar information about making champagne at this tour, but I liked that they focused a little less on the brand itself and a little more about this unique industry in France. They also had a whole room full of old tools and gadgets that people used to use to make champagne, which I thought were really interesting.
Like Clicquot, the cellars at Mumm were gigantic! This never-ending hallway holds tons and tons of champagne bottles.
During our tour, someone asked if there is any interesting graffiti on the walls in the cellar. Our tour guide told us that since the original Mumm family was German (Mumm is a German name) the Nazis actually occupied the champagne house during WWII, and you can find some of their graffiti on the walls throughout the cellars. Apparently the Nazis let the Mumm workers continue making champagne, as long as they shared the bottles with them. As a way of getting back at the Nazis, the Mumm employees would give them all the bottles that hadn’t been aged yet (so they were really bitter and too bubbly) and kept all the good bottles for themselves. The Nazis didn’t even notice they were getting crappy bottles, so it was a nice little show of resistance on the Mumm employees’ part. Just another fun fact for you! 🙂
After the tour it was time for another tasting!
Fabio and I had never tried Mumm before, but we both liked it a lot.
We will definitely keep our eyes out for these bottles in the future!
After our Mumm tour, we were ready for dinner! Per another recommendation from our Air BnB host, we decided to check out Le Clos, an adorable outdoor bar with quirky driftwood furniture and strung-up Christmas lights.
When we walked up to the bar we could see that everyone was drinking champagne – almost no one had mixed drinks or beer – so we decided to join in with a bottle of our own!
We had so much fun sitting in this cute outdoor bar with our bottle of champagne and just reminiscing over our trip so far.
Eventually we got hungry and were considering leaving to find someplace with food, when a food truck pulled up and started making gourmet cheeseburgers and fries! Sweet! The smell alone was enough to make that decision easy.
We decided to get one more bottle of champagne a couple of burgers. YOLO!
The burgers were incredibly delicious, and Fabio said it was the best burger he’s ever had.
It was such a fun evening!
By the way, this bar got really, really crowded when the sun went down, and we didn’t see any other tourists or people who spoke English! It was so fun feeling completely immersed in the French culture. 🙂
After finishing our champagne we decided to wander around the city a bit, since I had heard that the Reims cathedral is really beautiful at night. I’m so glad we did this, because just look how pretty it is!
(Even with the renovation being done in the middle part…)
Fabio and I had both seen the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris before, and we were surprised that this cathedral was maybe even more beautiful because of all the ornamental decorations on the outside.
I think we spent a good twenty minutes just walking around the exterior of this beautiful church and taking in all the details.
We especially liked the gargoyles, and some of them reminded us of Jack.
Overall we had such a fun time in Reims, and I would 100% recommend it if you’re looking to spend a day outside of Paris.
Take me back, please!
Question of the day: When was the last time you had champagne and what was the occasion?
P.S. All of this history and champagne making information is just from what I remember hearing during our tours. I think I got all the details right, but there’s always a chance I mixed something up! I’m definitely no champagne making expert!